by Samantha Wood || for NHL.com
“I think (some) people know who he is, but by the end of this year, I think everyone’s going to know who he is,” said Lake Erie Monsters head coach David Quinn.
“There’s no one better in the American Hockey League right now.”
The numbers agree: Desjardins, in his first year in the Colorado Avalanche organization, leads the AHL in both goals against average (1.49) and save percentage (.952).
Just don’t tell him that.
“I don’t really care about the stats. I’m just looking to win every game,” Desjardins said. “My main goal on the ice every night is to just help my team, and my teammates are doing the same for me.
“The numbers come by themselves. I just try to not give up that goal that could give the other team a chance to win.”
Desjardins joined the Cleveland-based Monsters club after battling injuries last year with the Norfolk Admirals, the top affiliate for the Tampa Bay Lightning. He was having another strong campaign – which included an impressive showing in his NHL debut – but played just four periods during the second half of the 2010-11 season.
“Coming to Colorado, it was the first time that a team said, ‘We trust you, we like the way you play, we want you to get healthy as soon as you’re ready,’” said Desjardins. “They showed me a lot of confidence.”
The Edmundston, N.B., native needed all the confidence he could get this summer, as he was about to begin an arduous rehabilitation process following surgery on a pre-existing injury. All told it forced him to miss the start of the season.
“That confidence gave me the motivation to get through that six-month rehab,” he said. “I missed the first month of the season, but sometimes you have to take a step back to move forward.
“That was the main goal of my rehab – to move on and try to get my play to as high a level as possible.”
And move on he did, as he returned to his place between the pipes on Oct. 30 and debuted with a 29-save shutout in a 4-0 victory over the Toronto Marlies.
Along with the support of the Avalanche organization, Desjardins said his recovery was bolstered by the memory of his first NHL action with the Lightning last season.
Desjardins, who had a career year (29-9-4, 2.00, .919, Second Team AHL All-Star) in 2009-10 playing for new Lightning head coach Guy Boucher with the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs, received the call to head to Tampa Bay on Dec. 20, 2010. He ended up playing in back-to-back games for the Bolts, notching wins against the Montreal Canadiens on Dec. 30 and the New York Rangers on Jan. 1.
“You work all your life to get a shot at it,” said Desjardins, who stopped 61 of 63 shots in his two NHL games. “I couldn’t ask for a better start in the NHL. It was two big wins, and it was good for my confidence.
“I got hurt right after, but those two games gave me that little spark of energy to keep moving, motivation to come back and try to go and have another shot at it.”
Exactly one year after that call-up – and with Desjardins back to his winning ways – the Monsters are thrilled to have their former nemesis in their net.
“We saw him a few years ago when he played for Hamilton and we got a front-row seat of how dominant he could be,” said Quinn. “He’s been a winner everywhere he’s been.”
Lake Erie is no exception. With his 7-4-1 record (in Desjardins’ four regulation losses, the Monsters’ offense has scored a grand total of one goal) and his league-leading GAA and save percentage totals, Desjardins is doing his part to help his Monsters move up in the standings – one save at a time.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been around a goalie that works harder than Cedrick does,” Quinn said. “He’s been an elite goalie in this league for a couple years now and right now I don’t think anyone’s playing better than he is in that position.”
Desjardins insists that gratitude is mutual.
“I’ll be ready if they need me [in Colorado] and I’m thankful that they gave me the chance to get back to the level of play that I was at,” he said. “The guys have been playing pretty good defensively to help me keep my confidence, and the way we’re playing helps me to get my game at the highest level as possible.”
At 26, Desjardins is in his sixth year as professional athlete, his third as a number-one goalie in the AHL. And though his injury and lengthy rehab may have put a bump in the road to a full-time position in the NHL, goalies like Tim Thomas, Jimmy Howard and Al Montoya are proving the benefits of patience and perseverance, and Desjardins wouldn’t have changed the experience.
“For my part, I took maybe a little longer road,” he said. “But at the same time, I always move forward one step at a time and try to not waste any season. There’s a lot of adversity sometimes, but when you get your shot at the NHL, you want to enjoy that as much as possible. That’s the reason why we’re playing hockey.”
He was also quick to offer advice for less-traveled players.
“It goes fast,” he said. “Every year could be your break-out year to go to the NHL, especially when you start in the AHL. Don’t waste time.”
As Desjardins and Quinn look into the second half the season, they agree that they have one goal in mind – winning.
“When your team has that type of success collectively, individuals certainly benefit from it in the long haul,” Quinn said. “People want winners and we think Cedrick’s in a position to get us where we all want to go.
“We’re looking to not only win our division but win a Calder Cup.”